Catholic leaders in Israel issued a joint statement on May 16, condemning the violence that took place on May 13 during a funeral procession for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Abu Akleh (51), a Catholic Palestinian, was killed on May 11 while reporting in Jenin, located in the northern part of the West Bank.
Al Jazeera published a report on her death, asserting that she was killed by Israeli forces and that another journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was injured.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry tweeted a video on May 11 that included the following statement: “Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Al Jazeera disputed the claims that Palestinian fire was the cause of Abu Akleh’s death, asserting that “al-Samoudi and other journalists at the scene said there were no Palestinian fighters present when the journalists were shot.”
The Israel Defense Force also tweeted the video but did not reference a connection to Abu Akleh’s death like the IFM tweet. Instead, IDF said, “This is the moment a Palestinian gunman—one of dozens—recklessly opened fire during IDF counterterrorism activity.”
Later, IDF tweeted a video featuring Chief of the General Staff LTG Aviv Kohavi who stated, among other things, “The reporter was killed in the battle zone. At this point, it is not possible to determine the source of the gunfire which hit her.”
NPR reported on May 16 that “an independent probe points to Israeli gunfire in the death of a journalist,” citing one researcher who visited the location of the video in question and concluded that “the Palestinian gunmen were some 300 meters (yards) away from where Abu Akleh was shot, separated by a series of walls and alleyways.”
On May 13, Israeli police became embroiled with mourners during Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, which began at Saint Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem.
“We, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land, hereby condemn the violent intrusion of the Israeli Police into a funeral procession of the slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as it was going from Saint Joseph Hospital to the Greek-Melkite Cathedral Church,” the statement said.
Haaretz reported that police had been instructed to remove any Palestinian flags, and such efforts ultimately resulted in police “beating mourners and firing stun grenades into the crowd.” Video showed police hitting several people who were carrying the casket with batons, nearly causing the casket to be dropped.
NPR reported that Israel has ordered an investigation, noting that the police “have said they were trying to prevent crowds from carrying the coffin and had arranged with Abu Akleh’s family to deliver it to the cemetery in a hearse.”
The Times of Israel shared video footage of police entering the hospital, reporting that it was released by Catholic leaders during a May 16 press conference in which they also released their statement condemning the police actions during the funeral procession.
On May 11, the State Department tweeted: “We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere.”
The U.N. Spokesperson for the Secretary-General issued a statement the same day, noting that Secretary-General António Guterres was “appalled by the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” that “his heartfelt condolences” go out to her family, and that he urged “the relevant authorities to carry out an independent and transparent investigation.”
Two days later, the U.S. State Department issued a another statement, noting that it was “deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession today.”
A U.N. statement said Guterres “was deeply disturbed by the confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians gathered at St. Joseph Hospital, and the behavior of some police present at the scene.”
“He continues to urge respect for fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful assembly,” the May 13 U.N. statement concluded.
Describing the police actions an “invasion” and a “disproportionate use of force,” the Catholic leaders’ May 16 statement said it was “a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”
They also emphasized that the hospital from which the procession began has been “a place of encounter and healing for all, regardless of their religious or cultural belonging, and it intends to continue to be so,” while emphasizing that the police actions during the procession had “deeply wounded … all peoples who in that place have found and still find peace and hospitality.”